November 21, 2013
Through an innovative pilot project aimed to bring healthcare to underserved people, more than 450 dental visits have been provided to low-income and special needs children in Los Angeles County’s Early Head Start and Head Start programs associated with Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District, Volunteers of America and Westside Children’s Center.
Children enrolled in these programs now have a new way to receive dental screenings, assessments, and preventive services thanks First 5 LA’s one-million-dollar grant. The funding supports a new partnership and a ground-breaking telehealth pilot project called the Virtual Dental Home, which makes it possible for hundreds of children to get the dental care they need, with the goal of expanding the model to serve even more children.
The innovative oral health care delivery system was created by the Pacific Center for Special Care at University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. Under the Virtual Dental Home model, specially trained dental hygienists in advanced practice, dental hygienists in public health settings and dental assistants provide dental care to underserved populations in a community setting, such as a school, community center, nursing home or group home. The hygienists and assistants virtually collaborate with a dentist using telehealth technology such as hand-held x-ray devices to provide critical dental services, assessment and care.
Virtual Dental Home now benefits hundreds of children in Los Angeles County thanks to a collaborative effort between First 5 LA, Westside Children’s Center, Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District, Volunteers of America (which administers Head Start and Early Head Start and California toddler and preschool programs), Venice Family Clinic, The Children’s Partnership, the Pacific Center for Special Care and 14 additional service sites throughout the county.
A successful sister pilot in San Mateo County has provided care through the Virtual Dental Home to almost 300 children. This partnership provides an opportunity for children enrolled in Early Head Start and Head Start programs to receive oral health screenings, risk assessment, and preventive treatment without having to visit a traditional dental clinic or office unless additional treatment is required. Case management is provided to support families in accessing more care if needed.
With parental consent, children are examined by a dental hygienist and assistant at the numerous Head Start and Early Head Start centers, like Westside Children’s Center, located throughout Los Angeles County. The dental records for these children are uploaded to a secure, cloud-based internet site where a dentist at Venice Family Clinic reviews them and recommends a treatment plan if further care is needed.
The Virtual Dental Home system is currently in use at 14 Early Head Start and Head Start sites throughout Los Angeles County, and will be expanded to more sites this year, including Early Head Start infant and toddler sites, as well as two schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“I see so many children in the neighborhood with silver teeth,” said single-mother Hiliana Murillo, whose two-year-old daughter Valentina is enrolled in Westside Children’s Center’s Early Head Start program. “This is not going to happen to my daughter.”
According to Dr. Nicole Thompson-Marvel, dental director of the Venice Family Clinic, more than 50% of children entering kindergarten have experienced tooth decay and only about 25% of children on Medi-Cal currently receive preventive dental services.
“This new delivery model provides a much-needed community-based ‘virtual dental home’ for our state’s most vulnerable people — who will access dental services in their own communities — as well as removes some of the barriers to receiving care in a traditional dental office setting,” said Dr. Paul Glassman, project director and professor of Dental Practice at University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry.
“This is a smart and innovative way to get dental care to children who might otherwise go without it,” said Jenny Kattlove of the Children’s Partnership. “As more children qualify for dental benefits under health care reform, communities and states everywhere should be examining how new technologies like this can reach large numbers of children with the high quality dental care they need.”
To learn more about the Virtual Dental Home and the Pacific Center for Special Care’s other innovative approaches to improving the healthcare needs of underserved populations, visit the Pacific Center for Special Care's website.
Category Type: Dental Issues and Research, Community Outreach
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